Saturday, August 29, 2015

Words As Peals Of Thunder

I has become quite en vogue among certain segments of the religious social media world to trash the Apostle Paul for his various inconvenient and politically incorrect statements on pretty much everything except "love", a word easily misused and reinterpreted to meet the standards of the world.

That is not how the early church viewed Paul. They had, as did many other generations of Christians, a much higher view of Paul. Rightly so. Jerome is quoted in The Principal Works of St. Jerome as writing the following regarding the words of Paul:
I will only mention the Apostle Paul, whose words seem to me, as often as I hear them, to be not words, but peals of thunder.
Peals of thunder. Peals is not a word we use these days but we probably should. What a different view of Paul we see from the early church and the great theologians throughout history, especially in the Reformation. In fact I ran across this quote again recently when reading  the intro to Timothy George's masterful work, Theology of the Reformers, now in a revised edition. George writes:
The Reformation was not merely a tempest in a teacup. Jerome once said that when he read the letters of the apostle Paul, he could hear thunder. That same thunder reverberates through the writings of the reformers as well. Contemporary theologians would do well to listen afresh to the message of these courageous Christians who defied emperors and popes, kings and city councils because their consciences were captive to the Word of God. Their gospel of the free grace of Almighty God, the Lord God Sabaoth, as Luther’s great hymn put it, and their emphasis on the centrality and finality of Jesus Christ stand in marked contrast to the attenuated, transcendence-starved theologies that dominate the current scene. It is not the purpose of this study to canonize the reformers. The sixteenth century was an age of violence and coercion, and the mainline reformers were not completely innocent of bigotry and intolerance. The Anabaptists, who had warts of their own, offered a counterwitness on this score, a witness that still needs to be heard in our own violence-ridden century. Luther’s invective against the Jews, Zwingli’s complicity in the drowning of Anabaptists, and Calvin’s in the burning of Servetus are all the more tragic because one senses that these, of all people, should have known better. However, what is remarkable about the reformers is that despite their foibles and sins and blind spots, they were able to grasp with such perspicuity the paradoxical character of the human condition and the great possibility of human redemption through Jesus Christ. This concern undergirded their approach to the church, worship, ministry, spiritual life, and ethics. In each of these arenas we need desperately to hear what they have to say. 
George, Timothy (2013-09-01). Theology of the Reformers (Kindle Locations 178-190). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. Emphasis mine.
To paraphrase Maximus Decimus Meridius: Their words echo through eternity like thunder. I think we could use a little thunder these days. Scratch that, we could use a lot of thunder these days.

We have lost the power of words, of ideas, of truth. Our battle-cry is tolerance, ecumenism, pragmatism. We try to fight the good fight by surrendering before the first shot it fired and shockingly keep losing, although that doesn't seem to bother some people. Anything to keep the peace and ensure that the tithe checks and book royalties keep flowing in. Paul makes for an easy target for the self-appointed editors of the faith because he is so readily slandered by those looking for an easier, less offensive gospel. Just pick and choose some seemingly innocuous passages about love, preferably from Jesus, and call Paul a misogynist or simply suggest that you can't really trust what Paul wrote, thereby setting the stage to discount whatever portions of the Bible the culture finds inconvenient. Pitting Paul against Jesus is a favorite pastime for too many religious folks and a fair number of Christians buy into it in their quest to find cover for their embarrassment of following such a primitive faith.

We could use a lot more thunder these days, a little more spine and a lot less congeniality. No one is going to read Jim Wallis or Joel Osteen or Rachel Held Evans and say wow, their words are like peals of thunder! Somewhere along the line we decided that being nice and inoffensive and politically correct were the hallmarks of a Christian when anything but that is the case. Thanks to our Hallmark culture we have a skewed, sub-Christian view of love and that view makes many of us theological wimps and whiners. I have a lot more to say about the view of the Bible and Paul in particular in the days to come. How we view the Bible in our culture today makes all the difference between a faithful witness and an empty religion. Stay tuned.

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